Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reporters Who "Burn" Sources

(Important note: I was informed by a commenter that the story DID appear ... on the front page ... on Christmas Day. My sincere apologies to Kathleen O'Dell for even hinting at a lack of reportorial integrity.)

If you look down this page you will find a blog entry titled "Calling 9-1-1".

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago after a call was made to my mother (who is both aged and has altzheimer's disease) by a Springfield City Official. I simply could not believe that employees of the city would call little old confused ladies and accuse them -- in essence -- of committing a crime.

After I contactedTony Messenger at the Springfield News Leader, I was then called by the "health" reporter for the paper, Kathleen O'Dell. Now -- to begin with, I admit that I don't have very much respect for health reporting nowadays, either in the paper, or from other outlets like KYTV. In general, although they sometimes get it right, more often than not they peddle a bunch of woo-woo to an unsuspecting public. The reporters don't know what they are talking about, they don't bother checking to find out the facts, and they just write, or broadcast, a cutsie feel-good story.

When I talked with Kathleen I gave her all the details I knew at the time. She of course, promised to get back to me. And of course, never has. And I have a lot more information now.

This is why people don't trust reporters, buy newspapers, and generally hold all the news media in very low regard.

I have been "burned" as a source of information by O'Dell. I have a long memory, and it won't happen again. I made a mistake by not telling every other news outlet about the story and putting some commercial pressure on her.

As for the story? It has disappeared. Not important. Not significant. Maybe city leaders denied it. Maybe they lied about the whole thing.

How would the reporter know ... and most importantly, how would I as a consumer of news know?

6 Comments:

Blogger Strannix said...

Ah, you've hit upon a particular pet peeve of mine, the "specialty" reporter. Indeed, our media outlets love to assign beats to certain reporters, in order to cater to certain demographics. Typically, the specialty reporters have no particular expertise regarding their beats: the health reporter does not have a background in health; the science reporter has no background in science; the legal reporter has no background in the legal system, etc., etc.

As ever, it is much more about branding than about content. Sorry to hear that you were burned as a source on this story; I've been there, I know how you feel.

8:55 AM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger John Stone said...

Yeah ... I guess I am a little rougher on Kathleen than I should be .. but unfortunately it's true. It could very well be her editor's problem and she knows better, but can't do much about it.

And it drives scientists crazy ... just plain crazy ... to have general reporters who have been given the "science desk" for this month to call and seek stories. We know in advance they are going to screw it up.

9:19 AM, December 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathleen's story about your "problem" appeared on page 1 of the News-Leader, yes, front page. It was on Christmas day I believe. Seems like it got a lot of media attention, probably more than it deserved.

8:28 PM, January 01, 2007  
Anonymous MrsThurstonHowell said...

I always think back on Lisa Rau when someone mentions health reporters. Quite a few years ago on KYTV she did "indepth" reporting on Tourette's Syndrome in several segments. One of those was a taped interview with then Spfd Symphony Director Chas Bontranger and his stepson who had the TS diagnosis. (When TS grabbed the attention of the media in past, it was mostly due to corpolalia sp? i.e. impulsive cursing-the more sensational aspect of the syndrome. Eye-catching captions such as "Cursing Disease" or "The Foulmouth Syndrome" were used. Sadly, this is often the only aspect of TS that is commonly known). Reporter Rau did precisely that in her interview, eliciting from Bontranger the more provocative details of the child's behavior, as far as I'm concerned for sensational purposes. A lot of other info on the disease was pretty much skimmed over by Rau, a typical health report, as you said.

As long as I'm on a soapbox and kind of off your subject, I'll forge ahead and comment on the very questionable media ethics of focusing on a child-name/photos etc-who is not "normal" in some aspect, even with obvious parental approval.

The News Leader has done "human interest" stories like that with just a twinge of exploitation for as long as I can remember. I often think, okay that parent has been caught in a weak moment by a reporter to give very private information about their child. Children with disabilities, particularly retardation or children who have been disfigured in accidents-all with names and photos-come to mind. Then there was the big indepth several years ago about the mercenary down Aurora way who ran a boot camp for problem kids and we got to see pages of photographs and stories of kids identified by name, who were being manhandled by this guy.

PLease forgive this digression-Lovey

8:34 PM, January 01, 2007  
Blogger John Stone said...

Oh, good gawd, Anon 828 ... when I read that I just wanted to find a hole crawl in it and cover myself up with dirt.

I owe Kathleen O'Dell a big one.

I immediately thought I would delete the post entirely and hope that no one remembered. But I think I will leave it up (along with an additional note) to remind myself that when I screw up I can usually make it a dandy.

My apologies to everyone who read it.

1:48 AM, January 02, 2007  
Blogger John Stone said...

MsTH ... yeah I agree that a lot of this stuff is just pandering to the grusome side of the readers/viewers ... and deplorable.

I think more along the lines of false health info. For instance, KYTV runs little health segments. They get these segments from a syndicator along with a script that Lisa Rose can "read over" the video. Lisa is a long time reporter in the area, yet will take these canned stories and provide her imprimateur without checking, even with some local folk about their accuracy.

I haven't kept a tally of the ones I have seen, but my impression is about half of them are about various unproven therapies, potentially dangerous home/patent remedies, or new imformation which is at a very experimental/unconfirmed stage.

For ten years I have been a member of the National Council against HealthFraud, which we formed after the passage of the Hatch/Harkin Act of 1994 which led directly to the flood of health frauds, false health claims, and woo-woo therapies that are out there today.

The shocking thing is -- our local hospitals have even gotten in on the act with various, milder forms of the woo. They have put people on the payrole to support these activities while at the same time reducing medical staff. The story is very complex, very intertwined with various religious/personal/usually uninformed beliefs, supported by popular books, commercials, lack of public knowledge of the science involved in medicine -- that is is staggering.

This year it will suck $50 billion out of the legit healthcare system.

2:34 AM, January 02, 2007  

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